Do I need to be a citizen of a state to request records there?

Q: I am hearing rumors that a recently hired school official was fired from his job at a public college in another state and would like to find out more. Do I need to be a citizen of that state to request records?

A: In most cases no. The vast majority of states do not require that a person requesting public records be a citizen. But a handful do require citizenship, or allow (but not require) state agencies to include a citizenship requirement. Currently, Arkansas, Delaware, Nebraska, Tennessee and Virginia appear to fall into that second category. New Jersey law limits disclosure to “citizens of this state,” but the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office has issued an opinion saying this provision does not prohibit non-citizens from making requests. If you are seeking information in one of the states above and run into roadblocks, you may be successful in working with in-state student media who might be willing to request the records you seek by proxy. 

The federal Freedom of Information Act allows any person to request government records for any reason, whether the person is a U.S. citizen or a foreign national.

Every week, Student Press Law Center attorneys answer a frequently asked question about student media law in “Ask SPLC.”

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